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When’s the news?

Terry L. Heaton has a sound article on the realities of TV and internet as the news medium. The dynamics of local news reporting and news breaking have changed and the broadcast industry is in a situation where the first-mover can have the real advantage.

The “situation” is that the marketplace is ripe for a local station to have the balls to break stories online — when they have them — and not wait until their alloted broadcast time. If not, the local paper will do it, and if not them, then somebody else will. If yours is the “live, local, latebreaking” brand, you’d certainly better be adopting that same slogan online. Otherwise, you’re simply shooting yourself in the foot every time you wait until 6 o’clock to present the efforts of the day, because you’re not telling the truth.

And here comes the new, in the local newsrooms resisted medium:

Until we begin respecting the power of the immediacy offered by the Web — and especially RSS — we’ll be hopelessly left behind in the race to see who wins the local online news prize. Money follows eyeballs, and the eyeballs are abandoning broadcast in favor of the Internet at a speed that frightens every corporate broadcast executive on the planet. And yet, there isn’t a single station that will put the full weight of its news operation into feeding this explosive growth market. Why not? Because we think it would be self-destructive to spill our goodies online and that people wouldn’t watch our programs if we did. But is that really so?

  • People already aren’t watching our programs.
  • There is zero evidence to support this belief.
  • It is actually self-destructive to NOT adopt such a strategy.

Moreover, and regardless of what’s going on around us, we seem to be the last to figure out that news is an ongoing conversation, not a program that appears when we say so. Old habits not only die hard; they can be dangerously deceptive.

Yes, news is a conversation. With those who are in the middle of it and those who are affected by it and those who have opinions on it. There have also been changes on the receiving end – the user (formerly known as consumer) is in charge.

Building an Internet strategy around this isn’t as difficult as it might seem, but it begins with fundamental changes in our attitudes and approaches to the Internet. The attitude adjustment is this: We meet the news and information needs of our community wherever they are, and meeting those needs is far more important than beating the competition.

The major media outlets have already adopted internet strategies that do not wait for the news hour. That is how it was possible for a group blog such as the Command Post to scour the breaking news from most of them and provide a useful one-stop information source about the Iraq conflict. It also starkly highlighted the different biases in the major media reporting that were embedded deeper than their reporters with the troops in Iraq.

The local news are closer to home and such inherent biases may be more obvious. So let them scoop the big media and each other beyond the box of the 6 o’clock news

via Doc Searls

18 comments to When’s the news?

  • toolkien

    I think the old media structure doesn’t want immediacy since they will not have the time to properly spin the ‘news’. If facts are served up immediately, they will stand or fall on their own merit instead of a melodiously voiced talking head telling us not only what happened but how we should feel about it.

    Oddly enough the 9/11 experience here in the States revealed this aspect. All the coverage was raw and unspun. You could turn on any station and the ‘news’ spoke for itself. Unfortunately within a matter of a few days, it was back to the same old – same old.

  • Tim Haas

    But the faster “news” is delivered, the less accurate it is, whether spun or not. All we knew for sure on 9/11 is that somebody flew two planes into the towers and a lot of people died. Do you remember how many theories were floated that day, and how often they changed when a new “fact” bubbled to the surface — and how often those “facts” changed depending on which broadcast you were watching? What use was that, really?

    Immediacy is no more likely to deliver truth — and I would argue usually less likely — than a story that’s been checked out for a couple of hours before the broadcast.

  • ernest young

    Raw news is not always inaccurate, if delivered as news and not as a ‘story’, with the usual news channel moralising. The BBC built it’s reputation on delivering raw news, without moralistic comment. Of course that has changed…

    I think the point is that, whether or not ‘ the facts’ have been checked out, we get to make our own minds up, as to what we think may, or may not have happened. Of course there will be a lot of conjecture and incorrect conclusions, but for a least a few brief moments the individual will making his own mind up about a given situation.

    There will, of course be the usual panopoly of interpretation of any event, the more stupid being seen to be just that, and with the people making the more stupid remarks being seen as just that – stupid…

    At least individuals will be given the chance to think on the raw ‘news’, before being steered toward the ‘correct’ interpretation, and we would get to judge which really are the best news channels, and not just the one’s with the prettiest presenters.

  • Richard Easbey

    “…But the faster “news” is delivered, the less accurate it is, whether spun or not. All we knew for sure on 9/11 is that somebody flew two planes into the towers and a lot of people died. Do you remember how many theories were floated that day, and how often they changed when a new “fact” bubbled to the surface — and how often those “facts” changed depending on which broadcast you were watching? What use was that, really?…”

    Guess what? I’ll take conjectures, theories, and raw footage over a talking head telling me what’s going on and what to think about it ANY TIME.

  • Tim Haas

    Well, OK, Richard. But do you consider yourself to be better informed after partaking of a context-free information stream? Aren’t you still more likely to have a better sense of the truth behind an incident by filtering the bias rather than just dispensing with the reporting entirely?

    I’m not trying to defend current practice in the news business, nor do I want to digress into epistemology — I just don’t see that more immediacy makes things any better.

  • ernest young


    Re 9/11, the conspiracy theories did not arise until later that day, the news at the time of impact was that two planes had crashed, and possibly a third – obvious to any one that it was no mere accident. It didn’t take a genius to realise that it was a terrorist act.

    Are you suggesting that it would have been better for nothing to have been mentioned until perhaps an hour or two later, of course you aren’t. The raw news was obviously the only way to deliver it, and its timeliness was a vital part of it.

    The sheer impact of the pictures on tv were more than enough to get the message across, there was no need for fancy ‘presenters’, just honest reporting, in this case with as few interjections as possible.

  • Sam Roony

    Tim want’s us to wait until history is written. Forget the match as it happens, take in “Match of the day”.

    No thanks. If I’m paying to watch, I want my moneysworth. I’ll take your opinion later!

  • Tim Haas


    My recollection as to when the theories started differs from yours, but since it’s not central to what I’m trying to say, I’ll stipulate it. Perhaps we’re even getting off track by using such a momentous event as an example, but: I certainly felt more reasonably informed reading the New York Times the next morning than I did after having watched broadcast news from about 9:15 a.m. till 10 or so that night, at least pertaining to the chronological facts of the attacks and who was responsible.

    Was I emotionally engaged all that day? Of course — but that’s all it was, reaction to sensation. In fact, the initial shock of watching the towers collapse in real time colored my analysis of the whole situation for months (and probably not the way you’d expect — I was against the whole idea of going to Afghanistan and later Iraq until way into 2003). “News as it happens” is spectacle — spectacle that frequently short-circuits the mechanism by which we decide which events require our thought and either immediate or eventual action, and which can be discarded.

    Let’s look at this even more simply — how many times is the first-mover just plain wrong (q.v. Drudge, about five times a week)? And beyond that, how many times do even well-researched stories, broadcast or print, still have serious flaws? I’m in the middle of fighting state legislation that’s due entirely to media speculation about a non-existent program. The rush to report has real consequences to real people (remember, for example, that fellow Jewell and the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics?), and any general movement toward further disconnecting news from context ought to be resisted (by consumers, of course, not the government — I am in no way suggesting censorship or prior restraint).

  • Tim Haas

    Oh, now, Sam, that’s hardly fair. But I must say that your likening world events to sport rather makes my earlier point about spectacle and its corrupting effects.

  • Tim Haas

    Erratum: I meant “non-existent problem” in my 6:24 post.

  • Sam Roony


    I guess my argument is, well, anti-intellectual; and in this case, pro-libertarian. There may well be such a thing as information exhaustion. Too much of a good thing, I say. If overindulgence blurs the vision, so does a good drink. But I’m not giving that up iether.

  • ernest young

    The root of the problem would seem to be a lack of belief in the performance and truth of news as presented by the mainstream media. They have become just too political to give an unbiased report of news, the New York Times being a perfect example of this, tv has CNN et al, suffering from the same problem, while the UK has the BBC and the Guardian as two prime examples of news reporting deteriorating to becoming no more than low level propaganda.

    Mainstream media has built a deserved reputation over many years, that reputation converts easily to being a power to influence the reader. Since the 60’s that power has been successively abused for political ends, thereby destroying their ability to deliver unbiased facts.

    No longer are they ‘news papers’, they are in effect no more than daily ‘op-ed’ publications, with most of the contained information having been filtered at least once. I suppose that is satisfactory for the majority of their subscribers, but in no way can it then be considered ‘news’. Hence we get the various dailies having their loyal bands of supporters, split into factions, based largely along political lines.

    News, to be effective, has to be timely, unbiased and truthful, then it will have a value, otherwise it is no more than gossip.

    As a ‘news junky’, I prefer my news to be ‘raw’, having no desire to have my point-of-view being tampered with, (however subtly), by the latest fashionable ‘talking head’. I can see that as a busy person you may prefer to have the ‘potted’ version as a timesaver, so I think we will have to agree to disagree on this point. ‘Vive le difference’, that’s what makes life so interesting…

  • Tim Haas


    I think perhaps I’m not communicating my point well because my dissatisfaction with the whole idea of “news” being able to impart useful information goes much deeper than the issue at hand, but I’m trying not to head down that path.

    It would help me to understand your point better if you could give me an example of raw news you like to consume, something more everyday than a 9/11.

  • [Tim: how about current stock market information?]

    One of the reasons why the news organizations are not happy about this is that it isn’t necessarily really an opportunity for them. With change there is the potential for opportunity, but not everyone necessarily is well positioned to take advantage of that opportunity.

    In the case of many of the traditional news organizations, their problem is that their business model isn’t sustainable in this new environment. It’s not that they can’t adapt, it’s that they can’t remain profitable.

    If a TV news organization puts all its breaking stories online, then it reduces the incentive for viewers to watch the 6:00 news. But their primary source of income is advertising revenue from the 6:00 news. By putting their material online as-and-when, they may keep “eyeballs”, but “eyeballs” don’t appear on the corporate spreadsheet.

    They’re between a rock and a hard place. If they start putting all their material online they will increase the rate at which they lose viewers. Since web-based advertising isn’t as valuable commercially as TV broadcast advertising, then even if their TV viewers become web-based visitors, the broadcasters will get less revenue per viewer. At the same time, operating on the web while still doing conventional broadcasting means that their expenses rise.

    But even if they don’t participate online, they’re going to lose viewers anyway.

    They’re in the position of telegraph companies watching as more and more people get telephones, or blacksmiths noticing more and more automobiles on the roads. The future is coming, but there’s no place in the future for them. It’s no wonder they are frightened.

  • ernest young


    Sorry, no time for a reply to your last post. We have a hurricane, or two, coming ‘up the pike’, and we lots of things to do…

    The weather reports are minute by minute, and are nothing but raw facts, now that’s useful news…..

  • veryretired

    Mr Den Beste makes a critical point which had not been addressed in this thread. The purpose of the media is not journalism. The purpose of the media is delivering as many viewers, or readers, or listeners as possible to their advertisers.

    The overly inflated importance of “breaking news” and the endless analysis and speculation that ensues when anything happens is the lure that various media outlets use to hook the consumer into looking at their ads. In a very real sense, nothing else matters.

    One need only look at the depths to which any media variant will sink in order to increase their numbers to realize how utterly prescient “Mata Hari and her Skeletons in the Closet” really was.

  • Tim Haas


    You’re obviously sidestepping my point by pretending to see no difference between sociopolitical “news” and meteorological bulletins, but I nonetheless hope you haven’t been nailed by the storm.

    And Steven, did you mean market price info, or the story (“story”?) behind price movements?

  • ernest young


    Charley missed us by about 20 miles, but the devastation at the ‘strike point’ and along the subsequent path, is catastrophic. Now we have yet another one to look forward to in the next ten days. Living in Paradise isn’t all fun….:-) Thank you for asking…

    Re our discussion, I noted your reluctance to delve too deeply into the ‘news’ definition etc., I just feel that this is hardly the place – or the space, – to do it justice.

    Briefly, I feel that the scope covered by the media is so broad that the line between fact and opinion gets very blurred. Both have their place, but it is a misnomer to call ‘personality opinion’ news, even expert opinion will be coloured by personal preference.

    Of course it is interesting to read other’s take on a situation, if you have the time and patience to sort the wheat from the chaff.

    Being very anti the current cult of personality in modern life, you can, perhaps understand my preference for the ‘raw’ stuff.